We set out with the intention of riding our bikes from Boulder, CO to Aspen, CO with our to skis. The goal was to ski big lines and have an adventure. We luckily achieved both.
Kyle Fowler, Sam Bennetts, Adin Baird, and I left from Boulder on a Thursday morning with a send off from Lolita’s Market. In our future was three weeks of biking with 100 pound bikes and skiing some fourteen thousand foot peaks. We began the trip towards Golden, Colorado so that Kyle could get his skis mounted (extremely last minute) and the staff over at Powder 7 Ski Shop hooked us up with a bunch of Voile straps and extra water bottles.
To say the least, we got our asses kicked. Our first day consisted of 62 miles of riding, 6200’ of elevation gain, hiking bikes on the side of the highway, and finishing it off by going an extra 800’ up a forest service road to camp above Idaho Springs, Colorado.
The second day? Just as hard. All of us were incredibly sore, Adin’s knee wasn’t doing too hot, and we had an uncertain fate with regards to the Loveland bike path. We started out in the rain and made it to a snow covered bike path. And not just like two inches of snow but up to 3ft in some areas… Then the shovels came out to trench our way through the mess. Eventually, due to slow progress, we sucked it up and put on our skis to begin skinning with our bikes for another four miles.
The following days were were pretty similar to the first two. Lots of uphill biking and even more bad weather. We experienced the magnitude of the Colorado avalanche season by hauling heavy bikes over slide debris and tested our grit in frigid temperatures on a few passes.
We ended up deciding to head towards the Arkansas Valley since it tends to be a bit warmer in May. Let’s just say that was kind of a miscalculation on our part. The day we arrived at the base of Mt. Harvard, a storm chased us the entire way into our camp until it scoured the entire mountain in a whiteout, making it unsafe to attempt the climb and ski. Along with the whiteout came a day of sitting in tents waiting out the storm. Luckily for Sam and I, we were able to watch the season finale of Game Of Thrones while Kyle sat alone in his tent for roughly eight hours.
With a damaged group morale, we took off and ended up in Salida, Colorado, far away from any skiing. Instead of bagging peaks in bad weather, the wonderful trail network of Salida allowed for some seriously fun riding. Especially on touring bikes.
With a sunny weather window on the horizon, our handlebars pointed to Mt. Princeton, the iconic peak of the Arkansas Valley. Immediately we were hit with a bunch of cold and rainy weather. Despite being soaked, all was well. The roads were safe to ride and the spirits were high. Then, as to be expected, we hit a three mile stretch of a steep, dirt road buried under four inches of snow. Too deep to ride and too slushy to skin. Yet another heinous few hours of pushing bikes through snow on a 6% grade ensued. Along the way Adin’s patella tendon began to cause him some serious grief. With tents pitched, we retreated to bed for an early wake up call to attempt our ski line.
It’s 2:30am and my sleeping bag is a mixture of soaking wet and frozen. Due to lots of condensation, cold temps, and a leaky water bottle that was staying warm inside my bag, I didn’t get the best sleep. Thus, it was morning of speedy wake ups. If you’re moving you don’t get cold right?
We demolished some cold milk, granola, and berries then suited up to head into the long dark tour ahead of us. The thing about the Arkansas Valley is that almost every approach is incredibly long, especially in spring. The Collegiate Peaks are home to some of the tallest 14er’s in the state and the sitting elevation of the valley is around 7000’. This means that every climb will at least be in the 5000’ range with a good amount of distance mixed in between.
About a mile in Adin had to turn back. His knee was acting up to the point of serious damage if he continued. He headed back to camp to sleep and rest as we pushed further up the mountain. Sunrise broke and flooded the mountain with some seriously beautiful light. Finally, for the first time during the whole trip, the weather report rang true and the skies stayed clear the whole day. Through some talus hoping and ridge climbing, we were gifted with great spring corn.
Jump to two days later and we’re back at the trailhead of Mt. Harvard. Again, clear skies predicted for the whole day. Through a very long tour of bush whacking up a valley, losing the trail nearly every twenty yards, and a good amount of boot-packing, the summit of Mt. Colombia was reached. Yep, that’s right. We summited the wrong fourteener and had no idea until we were 90% of the way there. I’m sure there is something to be said about millennials and trusting I-phones too much… Despite this minor miscalculation, Colombia was a great and sustained ski. From icy conditions up high to slush in the low valley, we experienced everything.
The next two days were spent attempting to get back to Boulder, CO before a large snowstorm was predicted to strike. From Beuna Vista, we rode to Fairplay, CO which was probably the hardest day of the trip for me. As it began to snow, my health declined as did my speed on the bike. I began swerving in and out of the bike lane into the highway due to fatigue, which wasn’t great considering the construction and heavy traffic. Once in Fairplay I made the call for myself that I had to get picked up. We still had about 30 miles of riding and only two hours of light left for the day with a storm predicting up to six inches in our area. The most logical move was to call it then and there, and we had a car from Boulder come grab us.
Despite an unexpected disappointing finish, I’ll still consider this trip to be one of the toughest and most rewarding things I’ve done. Along the way I worked as the filmmaker/photographer and athlete in a sport (cycling) that I had hilariously little experience in. In total we biked around 400 miles, climbed a cumulative 35,000’ on bikes and skis, and ate a pretty unhealthy amount of honey buns. If there is any take away from this little trip, it’s that honey buns are the best cheap fuel you could ask for. About 700-800 calories depending on whether you get the white or clear frosting and about $1.50. It’s mostly fat and sugar and pure deliciousness. I’d put our group consumption at around twenty.